Thursday, December 31, 2009

Taxi for 2009

Still digesting the news that the top song for 2009, as chosen by listeners to 6Music, is by Depeche Mode. Eh, what decade is this? The 1980s, apparently. It does feel like 2009 has been the year of the revival.

Anyway, onto more highfalutin matters. Next month 500 yellow cabs in New York will be featuring artwork by Shirin Neshat, Yoko Ono and Alex Katz, which is pretty cool. Maybe TFL could combine this idea with Poems on the Underground. Over to you, Mayor Boris.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

And to all...

Just listening to Beth Ditto's two-hour Christmas special on 6Music. Things got off to a bumpy start when she referred to the Slits and Banshees drummer as "Bunjee", but it improved from there--a mix of her favourite bands and some festive tracks. The kicker was a rather out-of-tune Christmas number cooked up by Beth at a Girls Rock Camp a few years ago which rhymes "Christmas" with "kisses". The programme is now on Listen Again and airs again on 3/1/10.

May as well tie up a few loose ends while I'm here. Congrats to Myra Davies for her Qwartz nomination for last year's Cities and Girls. Also, I am quite enjoying the new albums by Meshell Ndegeocello and Cobra Killer. I haven't heard anything from Meshell since the mid-90s but Devil's Halo is a real delight, a mix of rock band arrangements and introspective lyrics which, I think, is a grower. The Cobra Killer record, Uppers and Downers, also surprised me, because I've never really been sure about them. I think their presentation sometimes obscures the music, but this record is packed with clever songs spiced up by a few guest appearances.

Must go check on the Quorn roast. The smoke alarm has already gone off once today, a great tradition, to be sure. So, to all....
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Sunday, December 20, 2009

De-listed

So many things I am meant to be doing: clearing space to finally set up proper bedroom instead of sleeping on futon in office, writing speculative article on artist/filmmaker, prepping re-construction of destroyed radio show, oh, and blogging.

I have been asked a few times for end of year/decade lists, but find I have nothing to say in this format. Why is this? I used to love lists. I would never go shopping without one and about a decade ago used to compile all my favourite songs into a bespoke compilation tape for my own enjoyment.

Now, however, I have become listed out by other people's lists. It seems the easiest way to fill space in media outlets and strikes me as, quite frankly, the laziest of lazy journalism. So, I am not doing one. Everyone can make up her or his own mind about favourite and least favourite things. So there.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Odd Girl Out

At this time of year, with the wet and cold persisting, it's a good time to nestle in the welcoming bosom of radio (so to speak), but for me this daily ritual has added piquancy, as for the last two months I've been producing and presenting my own show. Odd Girl Out airs weekly on the web station Optical Radio, and it's been a welcome return for me to the airwaves after a long gap.

The idea came to me some time in the early '90s when I still lived in San Francisco and was writing a bi-weekly column on women and the arts for a local queer paper. Once I moved to London and began researching what should have been my book on women and underground music (long story), I began to think it would be great if there were a way to bring the music alive, so to speak.

The first version of Odd Girl Out aired way back in 1996, but it's been a long time finding an outlet for uncensored, un-formatted radio that mixes music and speech and allows me to delve into my archive and record collection.

Slowly, I have been digitising old cassette-recorded interviews and extracting short clips to air on the show. So, far the wisdom of Beth Ditto, Elizabeth Fraser, Gudrun Gut, Cornelia Schleime, Verena Kyselka and Melanie and Dolly of Mad Chicks has seen the light of day. And I've had my first live in-studio interview, with photographer Jaine Laine.

It's still a work in progress and I am adding features as I think of them, but it's great to be back on air and get the work of these amazing women out there. My playlists are posted on my journalistic site. Any suggestions, links or MP3s can be sent to valphnx (at) myspace.com.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Confidence Is a Preference

I was well chuffed to open last Thursday's Guardian, while waiting for my laundry, and see Liz Fraser's visage. "Aha, finally!" I thought, as it's been a long wait for the former Cocteau Twins singer's debut album. I seem to recall she signed to Blanco y Negro in about 1999. So, a long wait, indeed. She doesn't even have a proper website, just a rather threadbare work in progress. But, I am sure whatever Liz comes up with is worth waiting for.

Sadly, the article doesn't give any great hope. Though she left the group of her own volition, having already set up house in Bristol with her partner Damon and given birth, Liz doesn't seem to have found any great peace of mind and her old insecurities seem to have followed her into her new life. Having interviewed her a few times back in the '90s, I found her extremely personable, able to laugh at herself and others and, of course, quite talented and creative. I had great hopes for a solo career, in which she could finally express herself, unhindered by others' expectations. But, at least from her comments in the article, she still seems to find it hard to release anything for public scrutiny, new single aside.

It makes me wonder: what is the point of being in a band, if it doesn't add to your confidence and sense of capability? I have met many women who leave bands and don't seem to take good things away with them, as if they feel they can only create with their bandmates around them. So sad.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Und jetzt

Cornelia Schleime; photo by Val PhoenixTypical. As soon as I leave Berlin, exhibits pop up everywhere I would want to see. The latest is Und jetzt, a group show of female artists from the GDR. Among the 12 artists on show are Verena Kyselka and Gabriele Stötzer, two former members of Exterra XX about whom I have written. Other artists include Christine Schlegel, Elsa Gabriel and Cornelia Schleime.

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking to Cornelia Schleime when she came to London to present some of her Super 8 work. Sadly, I could not attend her talk, as it coincided with my visit to Berlin, but we spoke at length about her life in the GDR and her emigration to West Berlin in the 1980s. She also delivered a highly amusing rant about the plethora of prams in her neighbourhood of Prenzlauer Berg, the baby boom there an unexpected post-wall development.

Und jetzt runs at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien 27 November to 20 December.
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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Berlin Insane

Exterior of Pale Music HQ in Berlin; photo by Val PhoenixTomorrow, were I not otherwise engaged (and far away), I would definitely get myself over to SO36 (a venue I STILL have never been inside, though I have passed by) in Berlin to see the lineup gathered for Berlin Insane: the next chapter of Pale Music. It includes Mona Mur & En Esch, Italoporno, Kill the Dandies and Pale supremo Steve Morell on the decks.

During my recent visit to Berlin, I stopped by Pale HQ to speak with Steve, as a longtime observer of the alternative scene, about gentrification. He had a lot to say, but concluded he fears the powers-that-be want to clean up the city. "Keep Berlin dirty" is his mantra.

As it happens, I also met up with Mona Mur, at photographer Ilse Ruppert's birthday gathering. Just back from touring Poland and the Czech Republic, Mona was buzzing, the kids digging her brutalist industrial vibe. As we left Ilse's flat, Mona spotted the bus we were both meant to be getting and set off on a sprint in her high-heeled boots. Shod in sensible shoes, I quickly outpaced her, but she still made the bus. I was impressed. "These are my stage shoes," she declared, once we were seated on the top deck. From there she directed my attention to various landmarks, including former locations of the wall. Berlin by Night, with the Queen of Darkness. Now that's a tour.
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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Save Berlin

Cranes over Berlin; photo by Val PhoenixBack in London one day now, I am still reflecting on my whirlwind trip to Berlin-- mostly work, a bit of fun, not much sleep.

The big topic among people I visited was the future of the city, development, planning and gentrification. The timing of my visit was very much based on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall, but only because that is a good starting point to assess the changes that have occurred since then and how they affect the future direction of the city.

As areas like Friedrichshain see huge developments like O2 World and Mediaspree, is there still room for independent, small-scale projects, especially in the area of alternative culture and politics? This is what gives the city its special character and is such a lure for people like me. But, it's not what gets funding.

This weekend sees Save Berlin, a three-day exhibition of alternative visions for Berlin, organised by Ex-Berliner magazine. I missed speaking to the organisers but did have a chat with Julia L, one half of Julia + Julia, the performance duo I met on my last trip. The Julias are collaborating with two others, under the less-than catchy name of Julia + Linda + Julia + Ines, for their Amazonian-hand-craft themed installation in the foyer of the exhibit. This and other visions are on display throughout the weekend at a venue in Wedding, an interesting choice, as Wedding is one of those neighbourhoods being touted as the next Kreuzberg or Prenzlauerberg. So, in five years will people be complaining of how it's too hip, cool, trendy and not affordable? Possibly.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Mauerfall

Domino Galerie, Berlin; photo by Val PhoenixA cold, grey, drizzly day greeted me as I ventured out to see the Domino Galerie running from Potsdamer Platz up past the Brandenburger Tor. A symbolic wall, set to be toppled this evening to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, this bit of commemoration strikes me as a bit cheesy.

Laid out in a narrow strip patrolled by guards and lined by fencing (Hmmm), it lacks the gravitas or dignity one would expect of such an occasion, especially with the burger vans and commercial enterprises hovering in the background. Nearing Brandenburger Tor, one finds a sense of expectancy and enthusiasm otherwise lacking. Not for me. I won't be anywhere near the place when it all comes tumbling down to the tune of Paul van Dyk.

Sunday I spent the day in Hamburg visiting the studio of artist Anja Huwe, as she prepares for her next exhibition in January. We had a good long talk and were joined by her friend, photographer Katja Ruge, who dropped me off near the coach station. Prowling the mean streets of Hamburg, I spent a good 11 minutes listening to church bells marking 6 pm before devouring a falafel and some Turkish coffee. Didn't see much of Hamburg but found it enjoyable, nonetheless. Not so the 7-hour coach journey, but that's another story.
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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Treppening

A rather frantic day running around arranging and completing interviews ended with some lusty Hüfteschwingen to loud rock music in the upstairs corridors of RAW-Tempel, a quite extraordinary grassroots project in Friedrichshain that is in dispute with its owners and thus in limbo. An Open House evening, the Treppening featured exhibitions, open studios and a band playing under the stairs while visitors wandered the maze-like layout, sampled fresh waffles and experienced the camaraderie of social cohesion that is sadly lacking in so many neighbourhoods. Long may it reign.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Feedback

Manon Duursma at the opening of the Feedback exhibit at Neurotitan in Berlin; photo by Val PhoenixNeurotitan Gallery, Berlin
Until 28 November

On a short trip to Berlin, I found myself this evening at the opening of Feedback, an exhibit curated by Danielle de Picciotto. Wandering the space, I tried to imagine the relationships between the visual art on the walls and the sound installations that stand in front of the works. What, for example, is the connection between the intricately cross-hatched drawings of Laurie Lipton and the strange mutterings of Algis Kizys?

Later, I spoke with de Picciotto, who explained that she asked the musicians to respond to particular art works, reversing the usual visual-response-to-music dynamic. "I like to flip things," she declared. An artist, not a curator, dePicciotto works to a particular plan in organising these group shows. Bringing together people who would not normally interact, working with artists she knows and installing the results in Neurotitan (where earlier in the year I viewed Transgression) are all purposeful statements, supporting bold work and independent spaces, such as Neurotitan, which is run by artists.

Art in Berlin, she feels, has changed dramatically, with the commercial element coming to the fore. With rents rising and the prices of work declining, it is harder for artists to get shown and to make a living. The scene has become more competitive, with artists in group shows fighting to be the one to get a solo show.

Cigarettes and beer bottles in hand, visitors mingled with participants including musician Alexander Hacke in a shiny brown suit, and sculptor Petra Wende. I also had a chat with Manon Duursma, whom I met earlier in the year and who is slowly venturing back into music, making field recordings at home. Most intriguing.

Gearing up for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall, Berlin is poised with uncertainty. Even the weather can't make up its mind, snowing one day and beaming with sunshine the next.
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Thursday, October 29, 2009

LFF: week two

Shirin Neshat; photo by Val PhoenixWhile not what I would call a vintage festival, the 53rd LFF ended on a high note for me, as I made it to the last filmmakers tea, a series of which had been held throughout the festival.

An opportunity for press to meet one-to-one (or, as happened, in clusters) with filmmakers, they are a form of journalistic speed dating, one parking oneself awkwardly at a table with a keen or jaded filmmaker and hoping to come away five minutes later with some insights or at least good quotes.

Well, one of my dates stood me up, one was jetlagged and the other had such a full dance card, she conducted group interviews and then legged it to a screening. But, it was certainly an eye opener. Good scones, too, even if I was not as impressed by them as a colleague who piled her plate high and praised the quality of English food! One certainly doesn't hear that compliment paid often.

Anyway, I was very pleased to get an audience with Shirin Neshat, whose debut feature, Women Without Men, played at LFF. Given events in Iran over the summer, the film, which is set in 1953 as the elected Iranian government was replaced by that of the Shah, is timely and, in some quarters, controversial. Originally several installations, the film draws together the stories of four women, as the country is on the brink of the coup that brings the Shah to power. Despite their varying social positions, they all gravitate to a magical orchard, attempting to find a place for themselves in the face of oppression. An allegory for the state of Iran itself, Neshat's vision is confidently realised.

Wearing the green wrist bands of the opposition movement, Neshat confidently handled questions from six or seven journalists, explaining her position as both artist and activist. At some point, I will elaborate on her comments. But, it was an impressive appearance.

I also spoke to Ana Kokkinos, who had just flown in from Australia as a last-minute addition to the festival. Sadly, I was not able to catch her new film, Blessed, but I well remember her debut, Only the Brave, a tough-minded depiction of Greek-Australian teens. She admitted she was something of a teenaged tearaway and is drawn to these kinds of stories, and the new film returns to this terrain, as it follows teenagers and their parents throughout one eventful evening.

Of the films I saw in the second week, standouts are Precious and Ander, two depictions of home life in very different circumstances.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

LFF: French Fancies

When it comes to whimsy and visual imagery, Jean-Pierre Jeunet pretty much has it wrapped up, after Delicatessen, Amelie and, um, Alien Resurrection. Now, in Micmacs à tire-larigot, he's tackling the very real-world subject of arms manufacturers. After naive video store worker Bazil is shot in the head by an errant bullet during a shootout, he finds himself homeless, friendless and jobless wandering the streets of Paris.

But, this is no ordinary quotidien Paris, but a sepia-tinted city of Jeunet's imagining, populated by circus performers and lovable rogues who adopt the down-on-his luck Bazil and assist him in his quest to bring down the two munitions companies responsible for his injuries, his father's death and untold miseries in foreign conflicts. This is a man with a dream, and the means to realise it. There follow ridiculous plot twists and implausible set pieces, executed with Jeunet's attention to detail and cinematic references. There is even a bit of romance between Bazil and a contortionist. And, save for some rather creepy voyeurism involving a security guard, it works.

Still from Father of My ChildrenMia Hansen-Løve's family drama The Father of My Children is also steeped in cinema but of the business kind, as workaholic film producer Gregoire finds his production company under financial pressures, despite his best efforts. Neglecting his family in Paris, he spends all of his time on the phone, attempting to cut deals all over the globe in pursuit of his vision of the purity of arthouse cinema. The film references feel a bit in-joke, with Gregoire locked in a battle with a Swedish auteur over rising production costs. When it all crumbles, the focus shifts to his wife and three daughters, who find themselves stepping into the breach.

In truth, Gregoire is not a very sympathetic character and the film spends far too much time on his endless phone calls and not enough time developing the female characters who, rather belatedly, emerge. It is only revealed toward the end of the film, for instance, that the wife is Italian, hence her desire to move the family to Italy, against the eldest daughter's wishes. The division into two halves feels a bit awkward, negating the emotional power of the film.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bettina Köster: Queen of Noise

Bettina Köster; photo by Val PhoenixAsinella Records
23 October release

I had an advance copy of this album a year ago and thought it would just be a matter of whacking it on CD and adding some album art. Well, more fool me, because it's obviously had a lot of mixing done since and is now in a totally different order, with changed titles and an additional song.

So, back to the beginning. Köster first started this record back in 2006 when she upped sticks from Berlin to rural Italy and has been working on it ever since, shifting to Vienna and Berlin for various stages.

The one track I hadn't heard proves to be the absolute standout: the cracked piano ballad "Pity Me", which is melodramatic as the title suggests. I am put in mind of a tux-clad Marlene Dietrich swanning around a candlelit cabaret regaling all and sundry with tales of her broken life. Cinematic doesn't begin to cover it.

Elsewhere the record is thoroughly modern, with an underpinning of electronica and squalling guitars. The sax she employed so prominently on her last project, Autonervous, is downplayed to a few atmospheric stabs.

The way she uses her voice is intriguing. I haven't heard such a dramatic shift since Marianne Faithfull returned from her heroin addiction with Broken English in 1979. Having dropped in pitch and tone from the swooping histrionics of Malaria!, Köster's voice now fits menacingly between Faithfull and Grace Jones. When she growls "Welcome to Regina's Diner" on "Regina" it is very much as the spider to the fly.

But the bold listener who enters this web is in for some very pleasant surprises. A Devo-esque tongue-in-cheek cover of "Helter Skelter" finds her dryly intoning rather than shouting. And the album closer "Thar She Blows" is a tender love song.

The bulk of the record is a shake-your-rump and get jiggy sexy workout. I have some quibbles with the running order, as I would have sequenced the bassy "Grab Me" and "Confession" at the start. The latter includes the teasing lyrics "I have been playing in the trash and I kissed a lot of frogs", which beg questions.

I met Bettina Köster in Vienna in summer 2008 for an interview, but as she was still mixing the album, we didn't discuss it much. Subsequently, I emailed her to ask about the record.

KB: The songs I have heard are all in English. Even as recently as the Autonervous record you were still writing in a mixture of English and German. So, why this change now?

BK: When I was recording Autonervous I was in Berlin, [but] now that I live in Italy, I speak much more English. Plus, English is my favorite language, as it is, in my opinion, much more concise.

What influence do your surroundings have on your writing, as far as language, subject, etc.?

Having recorded in the isolation that comes with being a foreigner in a population 500 town [and] not really being proficient in the local language, which is not even Italian but Neapolitan, gave me the oportunity to go deep into myself and deal with nothing but writing songs and recording.

Lyrically, there seem to be recurring words: water, confessions. What would you say are the themes of the record?

I love the water--maybe you remember my song "Kaltes Klares Wasser" [by Malaria!]. I do not care too much about swimming. I like it on the water but not in the water [and] I have grown up with boats. They mostly sink, but nevertheless. When I first came to the area in 1998, I sat on the beach of Positano, one of the Siren Islands right in front of me and I had the strong feeling of feeling familiar, having come from the water there.

Re: confession, I was very open with my lyrics and they are also most personal. And then, I'll have to admit, I kissed a lot of frogs. I confess that I was attracted to the red umbrella (something that is not good for you but that has an intense attraction) and also I kissed the devil's daughter at least once. Which really shattered my world for a moment... [Another lyric] "This procession is ending and leading right up to you" is the visualisation of the new person to enter my life.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

LFF: Week One

Still from Mic-MacsSeeing as how I am sort of cheating on myself by contributing LFF reviews to other parties (see Sound on Sight), I thought I really ought to make it up to myself by delivering something substantial to Kunstblog. So, fresh from tonight's Screen Talk with Jane Campion, I can report on the inner workings of an auteur.

Actually, Campion wasn't that illuminating, and, as I haven't seen Bright Star, her latest (the clips I have seen of wan young things quoting poetry to each other didn't really pique my interest), I can't do justice to her comments on that work. Suffice to say, a lot of thought went into the sound and the palette.

Interviewed by festival artistic director Sandra Hebron, Campion seemed a bit nervous and giggled a lot, which was surprising for one of such gravitas. She revealed she still gets anxious in the run up to a shoot--"terror" was the word used, and that her break from feature directing was something of a mid-life reassessment. Once back on set, she couldn't remember what to do! Warming to the evening's task, she told some great on-set anecdotes, including how she handled sniping by junior crew.

She also graciously accepted a DVD from a cheeky actress in the audience touting her wares. Amazing the woman got close, given the burly security men seen guarding the door earlier. The LFF has bouncers now! In fact, I was tapped on the shoulder and informed gruffly that "she doesn't want to be filmed" when I tested out the sound capability on my new compact camera. Funny profession to go into then, isn't it?

Generally, I have found the festival a bit user-unfriendly this year. Not just the bouncers (guarding what?), but the reams of uninformative information, scanners used at the Delegates Centre, rooms closed off for private functions and the refrain of "availability permitting". It feels a bit repressed. Loosen up, film people!

Of course, there are loads of cinematic delights to counter the lapses in presentation. My favourites of the first week are the US indie charmer Dear Lemon Lima, (seen on preview) and Jeunet's Mic-Macs, wildly imaginative, if lacking in logic.

Biggest flop is The Exploding Girl Never has a title seemed so inappropriate, for this treacly slow, monosyllabic slackerfest. Him: Hey. Her: Hey. Him: Hi. Her: Hi. I seriously considered getting up and walking out, I was so bored.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

London Film Festival

14-29 October, London

Today sees the opening of the London Film Festival, aka Clooney Fest, as dear George has THREE films on display, including tonight's premiere of Fantastic Mr. Fox. Apparently, the queues have been building all day.

George aside, the attractions of the festival include Sam Taylor-Wood's depiction of the youth of John Lennon, Nowhere Boy, which closes the festival, as well as Jane Campion's latest, Bright Star, a biopic of John Keats and Fanny Brawne.

As usual, though, I am more drawn to the small, obscure films and so am looking forward to the dramas Cracks, Tales from the Golden Age, and Leaving. Blank City was announced, but this doc on CBGBs has now been replaced by another, Burning Down the House. Not sure why.

Jane Campion and Julianne Moore are featured speakers, but I am especially keen to see what transpires at the panel on female directors called Snipping Away at the Celluloid Ceiling, the panellists for which have yet to be announced.

I hope to try out some new methods of coverage, so may be popping up in unexpected places.
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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Scarce: Days Like These

Nottingham, England is not known as one of the great cinematic capitals of the world, but it is where the doc Scarce: Days Like These is premiering on the 13th. There is a reason, as this is where Scarce's UK tour starts and, as the film is about them, it makes sense.



As a great follower of obscure bands myself, I was intrigued as to why the London-based photographer and filmmaker Sally Irvine would undertake to document a band that released one album before breaking up in the 1990s. Mind you, Scarce had a dramatic story: singer/guitarist Chick Graning nearly died from an aneurysm and was only saved by the timely intervention of his bandmates, who broke down his door when he didn't turn up for practice one day.

Having seen the film, I noticed how little Graning says, his more voluble bandmates Joyce Raskin and Joe Propatier doing most of the talking. He seems a rather fragile presence, even 14 years after the event. It was Raskin, committing her thoughts to paper for the book Aching to Be, who contacted Graning and got the re-formation going. She seems to have been most affected by the dissolution of the band, but the emotional fallout is not really covered in the film.

What is clear is the durability of bonds within a band and between band and audience, and the fact that Scarce can break up and re-form a decade later and still find an audience is heartening.

Scarce: Days Like These premieres in Nottingham on 13 October. Scarce tours the UK 13-17 October.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Film Series in London

Poster for FallenWhile the London Film Festival is still some days away, there is plenty for cinephiles in the capital to enjoy this week.

The BFI is marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with a film series looking at "how Europe arrived at its present state and stimulating reflection on its future". Oh, yes.

This first strand, The Writing on the Wall, focusses on German films, and there are some intriguing ones on show, including the double bill Germany, Year Zero + Germany Nine Zero and No Place to Go.

Next week sees a retrospective of Coop 99, the Vienna film cooperative responsible for such titles as Esma's Secret and The Edukators. A few years ago I was blown away by Barbara Albert's Fallen at the LFF and I am pleased to see this film get a screening, with the director in attendance.

The Writing on the Wall runs 4-14 October in London.
The Coop 99 retrospective runs 8-13 October in London.
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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Raincoats at NPG

Raincoats at NPG; photo by Val PhoenixWill be covering this gig for a feature on Gina Birch in Wears the Trousers, but wanted to share a few highlights from the Raincoats' Icon-i-coustics gig, in connection with the Gay Icons exhibit, at the National Portrait Gallery tonight.

Ana handed every member of the audience one of her drawings (mine features lyrics from "No Side to Fall In"). Gina showed a film about her icons made especially for the night. Shirley read poetry at the swanky 1940s radio mic that was far too tall for her. Anat Ben David recited from the SCUM Manifesto. The lights came up far too soon during the finale of "Lola". Truly an epic.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Rampenfiber

This week sees the return of Rampenfiber, Fiber magazine's performance extravaganza, to sunny Wien and it truly is a multi-media affair, with a logo, jingle and even a trailer!



A feminist response to pop culture, Fiber has debated issues, conducted probing interviews and spotlighted talented women and queers over its eight years and 15 issues. Though written in German that is sometimes over my head, I find it quite the tonic: intelligent writing that makes connections between the artistic and the political.

Though Vienna has hosted many women-oriented events such as Queer Feminist Tage and Ladyfest, this one is more focussed on Fiber's interests, as they are the organisers. The first Rampenfiber, in 2006, featured an array of discussions and performances focussed on music.

This second edition of Rampenfiber includes a strong film programme, as well as live performances by Scream Club, First Fatal Kiss and Kevin Blechdom. There are also discussions on queering the stage and Ladyspace. A full programme is online.

Iris Hajicsek, a veteran on Vienna's queer feminist scene who performs as Norah Noizzze, commented: "I like the idea of Rampenfiber - female self-empowerment in pop culture - and I like the Fluc Vienna, where the gigs are going to happen, and that's why I am glad to play there at the 26th."

Rampenfiber runs 24-27 September in Vienna.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Gay Icons

National Portrait Gallery, London
through 18 October

In an age in which empty celebrity is exalted above achievement, in which 75% of UK girls aspire to be WAGs (according to this morning's Radio 5), an exhibit called Gay Icons poses some interesting questions: what is an icon? What is a gay icon? Is it someone to aspire to be? Someone who is inspirational? Someone specifically gay who is inspirational to other gay people?

National Portrait Gallery; photo by Val PhoenixWell, the answer certainly does not lie within the confines of the portraits on display at the NPG. With minimal text accompanying the pictures, I was unsure as to the thinking behind the choices. A panel of 10 "selectors", chaired by Sandi Toksvig, chose a total of 60 portraits. It would have been very interesting if this panel had convened and argued over every single choice, Mercury Music Prize style, but it seems they made their choices in isolation.

Accordingly, each icon seems to have been chosen on the whims and criteria of the individual selector. And some conform to type: Lord Waheed Alli, who made his name in TV, chooses celebrities such as Will Young and Princess Diana. Sir Ian McKellen, a founder of Stonewall, chooses campaigners, such as Angela Mason and Harvey Milk. Writer Alan Hollinghurst chooses writers and composers such as Tchaikovsky and Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Where the exhibit picks up considerably is in the quirky choices. Graham Taylor? Nelson Mandela? Well, yes, if you are Sir Elton John and Billie Jean King, respectively. The first makes some kind of sense, given Elton's connection to Watford Football Club, while BJK speaks of Mandela's dignity in the face of oppression. But, clearly there is no unifying agreement on just what makes a gay icon.

The portraits are also of varying quality. Some are glossy PR shots, such as the one of the Village People (an Alli choice), while the one of Martina Navratilova (a Ben Summerskill choice) is a press shot taken after a Wimbledon triumph.

Chris Smith's choices include no fewer than three subjects who killed themselves, suggesting a link between gayness and tragedy or at least gay icon status and tragedy which is echoed by other selections such as Diana and Bessie Smith (selector Jackie Kay even states that Smith's bisexuality and alcoholism make her a perfect choice as an icon, to which I can only reply: WTF?!).

Surely, in the modern age one could sever this link. But, perhaps his point is that even such high achievers as Alan Turing and Virginia Woolf suffered from social prejudice or mental illness, making them vulnerable beings.

I found myself drawn to two photos, in particular, which hint at the subject's personality and some kind of otherworldly, steely inner quality which would allow for survival and success in the face of such travails. The first was a black and white shot of the social reformer Edward Carpenter (another McKellen choice), pictured in what looks like the entrance to a garden. There is something quite defiant about his jaunty pose, in three-quarters profile, and slightly slouching in his natty plus fours, hat and tie. Even his sandals can't detract from the portrait of a dandified mystic.

The second was of author Patricia Highsmith (a Sarah Waters choice), whose most famous creation, the shape-shifting Tom Ripley, continues to entrance modern readers and filmgoers. In a 1960s publicity shot, Highsmith, whose life spanned the pre-and post-Stonewall eras, gazes moodily at the viewer while holding a book. With her sleeves rolled up, and peering out from her tousled fringe, she oozes sensuality as well as gravitas. Clearly, a woman who means business and my kind of icon.

Accompanying the exhibit is a series of talks and performances, which includes a gig by the Raincoats on the 25th.
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Sunday, September 06, 2009

Avengers tour

Back in the early '90s when I used to haunt the dank and spooky basement of the Main Library of San Francisco seeking out month-old issues of the NME and Melody Maker, I used to disturb the tranquility of the assistant there, one Penelope Houston, late of first-wave punk band The Avengers.

Most famous for opening for the last ill-fated Sex Pistols show at Winterland in 1978, The Avengers kicked up some pretty fierce agit-punk, such as the anthems "I Believe in Me" and "We Are the One", for which Penelope was the shaven-headed, snotty-voiced singer. Later she became a neo-folkie and released some pretty cool albums, as well as becoming quite successful in Germany.



But, the old punk instincts returned at some point in the late '90s and the band has gone on the road periodically. I never heard the album that came out in '99 but I still have some tattered unofficial vinyl of their original recordings which I found in some second-hand shop years ago, with a grainy Penelope (it's not really a very punk name is it?) on the pink cover.

This month she, Greg Ingraham and some recruits go out on the road with Paul Collins' Beat and Pansy Division for a West Coast tour. There are also some accompanying events, including a photo exhibit (in the Main Library!) and discussions, including one on queer punk. Wish I could be there.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sister Spit: the Next Generation

Coming soon to a dive near you.... and quite a few salubrious venues it's the notorious Sister Spit: the Next Generation on their EuroTrash 2009 tour. Nice.

What I know of Sister Spit is entirely second-hand as this women's spoken word tour developed after I left San Francisco in the mid 1990s. But, I can fully imagine how such a project could spring from SF, which had an active spoken word scene of various genders and sexualities. And the legendary Kris Kovick, who staged many performances at Red Dora's, participated in their tours. So, the quality should be cherce.

It's almost eight years since I last saw Kris, then very ill with cancer, shortly before her death in autumn 2001. I remember her brimming with wisecracks, as she shuffled around her flat in Norwich Street plying me with goodies to take on my flight. It's a memory that stays with me. Alison Bechdel published a typically witty memorial last year.

As for Sister Spit: TNG, it promises a lineup of "zinesters, fashion plates, novelists, performance artists, slam poets and fancy scribblers" promoting alternative culture and raising hell across the UK and Europe throughout September.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Up Your Ears

Word reaches me today of an exciting queer music festival coming up in September in Berlin: Up Your Ears.

Among the bands playing are East London's own long-time DIY agitators, Gertrude, plus a Leipzig band I quite enjoyed some months back: sleazy, inc. operated. So, two good reasons to check it out.

The workshop programme includes Travel Queeries honcha Elliat Graney-Saucke's guide to producing your own radio podcasts, which I would definitely check out, were I there. A full programme for Up Your Ears is online now.

Schwarzer Kanal Wagenplatz; photo by Val PhoenixAmid the excitement of such an undertaking is the alarming news that Schwarzer Kanal, which is hosting the festival, has received an eviction notice for the end of the year. A one-of-a-kind queer collective wagon space, SK sits on a prime location that is due to be developed, as onward marches Kreuzberg gentrification. I only visited the site briefly during Ladyfest a few years back but, during a rather over-long discussion, I found it quite impressive.

A meeting about the eviction will take place during the festival, but interested parties are asked to contact SK at schwarzerkanal@squat.net with the heading "verteiler".

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

'80s Flashback: Pat Benatar

Ah, Pat. I sometimes flash back to my MTV teen past and wonder what I was thinking.

But, as a fellow Noo Yawker, I have a soft spot for Ms Benatar, now recognised as a feminist heroine. On tour with Blondie! How cool is that? Makes a weird kind of sense. There are parallels to be drawn between Debbie + Chris and Pat + Neil. Plus, they were both on Chrysalis. But do, we really need the Debbie Harry Barbie doll??? Please. Someone's 'avin' a laugh.

Here's Pat Benatar's classic "Love Is A Battlefield", complete with triumphal group dance at dawn on the mean streets of LA. I was very excited when the song came in at #14 for the year. Along with "She Works Hard for the Money", this was the closest to a feminist statement that could be viewed on MTV in those days, and so was to be cherished.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Art of LiLiPUT re-posted

One very pleasing episode in my quest to document every great women band ever was a whistle-stop visit to lovely Zurich to visit three alumna from post-punk art rockers Kleenex/LiLiPUT. Marlene Marder, Lislot Ha and Klaudia Schiff gathered at the latter's house for dinner and a chat, which I hope to publish in full at some point.

Though the band broke up years ago, they are fondly remembered and have had a compilation out on Kill Rock Stars, thus uniting them with their spiritual offspring.

Kleenex/LiLiPUT were often associated (though not necessarily by choice) with visual art, whether the Junge Wilde or the Dadaists. Here they discuss the band's connection with the art scene.

Kleenex und Kunst from Val Phoenix on Vimeo.


These days band activity is a bit sporadic. They have compiled a film from old tour footage, but it is not clear whether this will be released. Marder is happily star-gazing, while bassist Schiff(erle) has pursued a career as an artist and is currently showing her drawings and sculpture in Zurich through the 31st. She will also be teaching a course in the autumn.

They have had offers to re-form but, as yet, have declined.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Community Use: Hackney WickED vs The 'Stow

new community use area in Walthamstow; phto by Val PhoenixLiving in an Olympic borough, as I do, one exists among the stark juxtaposition of the haves and have-nots: loads of cranes, shiny hoardings and hype of a global event, contrasted with the squalor, unemployment and despair of an historically deprived area.

As Hackney WickED, an arts festival in its second year, shows, one can do a lot with one's surroundings. Bordering the Olympic construction, Hackney Wick holds a concentration of artists living in an industrial area which was pretty much a wasteland 10 years ago. No shops, no cafes, just one bus route and a canal, plus a lot of abandoned buildings.

Now it's the new Shoreditch, full of artists' studios and galleries and right on the edge of what will be a global hotspot come 2012. Regeneration or gentrification is the question.

To be fair, some of the artists are questioning the changing of the area themselves. One exhibit, the Museum of Hackney Wick, looks at the changes in the area and casts them as historical exhibits, to be picked over by future inhabitants.

Meanwhile, up in sunny Walthamstow, we have a newly opened "community use" area (see photo). After years of walking past a boarded-up derelict lot on the corner of High Street and Hoe Street, I can now walk through an empty paved lot, utterly devoid of character or personality.

Yes, after years of consultation and planning, the council has, in essence, built a car park. Genius. This, truly, is progress. And since we're in an Olympic borough, maybe by 2012 it'll be rebranded as an Olympic community use area.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Typical Girls? The Story of the Slits

Typical Girls author Zoë Street Howe at book launch in London; photo by Val PhoenixZoë Street Howe
Omnibus Press
Legendary as first-wave punks and pioneering women, yet largely ignored by the myriad punk histories over the decades, The Slits finally get their bio as the 30th anniversary of their debut album, Cut, approaches.

Hanging her book on this peg, Street Howe (see pic) gives a very abridged back story to the album and also pretty much fast-forwards through everything after the band broke up, but the golden years of 1976-81 are given their due, with an array of funny, insightful anecdotes from a range of colourful characters such as Don Letts, Keith Levene and Vivien Goldman about what it was like being around the Slits in that heady time when the world was introduced to what would become known as punk.

This then branched off into the infinitely more interesting post-punk, with its reach into the diaspora of reggae, dub, experimental noise, art rock and all of the "waves". The Slits were there through all of it and were still evolving when they broke up at the end of '81. The book includes interviews with band members Viv Albertine, Ari Up, Tessa Pollitt and Palmolive, and also some of the ones who left early on, such as Kate Corris.

Told in a rather breathless, golly, gee-whiz style, the book lacks a solid social and political context for The Slits' story. It is also peppered with dismissive phrases such as "die-hard Women's Libbers", a phrase I haven't heard in about 25 years.

This anti-feminist thread is backed up by Street Howe's comment in The Quietus: "I loved their strange, funny, experimental sound and look, and was inspired by, from what I'd read in the odd interview, their refusal to label themselves 'feminist', or even 'punk'."

Why is this inspiring? What is wrong with aligning oneself to a group or movement? Surely this is exactly what the Slits did: they called themselves a gang or a tribe and were close-knit. Ari Up has long referred to being part of a "revolution". Surely one cannot have a revolution without acting in tandem.

Strange, really, because, when I met the author recently, she said she identifies as a feminist, but she was at pains to illustrate that The Slits didn't want to be categorised.

Ironic, then, because the memory of The Slits has largely been kept alive by underground women's movements such as Riot Grrrl and Ladyfest (the Manchester event hosted the re-formed band) which are avowedly feminist and see the value of standing together in the face of continuing misogyny.

But if The Slits baulked at being adherents to a movement, their sense of being independent and in control of their work has certainly been picked up by thoughtful and adventurous souls in the intervening years.

It is unfortunate that the book uses the word "seminal", a word whose etymology is linked to semen, to describe The Slits. But the band is extraordinary, their legacy impressive and their story well worth telling.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Gina Birch at Barden's Boudoir

Gina Birch on-stage at Barden's Boudoir; photo by Val Phoenix8 July
Barden's Boudoir

Dalston truly is a lure for west London's punk pioneers, as following on from last month's visit by Viv Albertine, Gina Birch popped in for a gig.

After sets by Helen McCookerybook and Brooklyn weird-rock duo Christy and Emily (how do two people make so much noise??), Birch took to the stage, guitar in hand, backed up by tapes and projections from her decades of films. She has been working on new material since The Hangovers but it's not clear when this will see the light of day.

The set ranged from Raincoats ("Don't Be Mean") to Hangovers ("I'm Glad I'm Me Today") to quite a few I didn't recognise, but were quite intriguing. Bitterness, regret and quite a lot of anger shine through in Birch's delivery, and her slightly unhinged persona is brewing up nicely.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Florence and the Machine

A new album, support set for Blur and a storming set at Glasto (how the heck did she get up the lighting rig in those heels?!). It's all go for Florence and the Machine.

Lungs, the album, is currently streaming for two days ahead of its release on the 6th. And it's quite impressive.

I never liked "Kiss with a Fist". Too open to misinterpretation, even if, musically, it's the rockiest thing in her set. But, "The Dog Days Are Over" is one of my favourite songs of the last few years, a wistful, melancholic, start-stop song with cryptic lyrics. And this woman likes her handclaps. It's definitely time for a handclap revival. Other standouts are "The Girl with One Eye" and "Howl", both of which reference tearing out hearts. So, she has a thing for internal organs.

Part flower child, part goth, with nods to Kate Bush and Stevie Nicks, Florence has an oddball, kooky, slightly hippyish retro style that is intriguing, even if it screams pretentious art student. And, indeed she attended Camberwell. One to watch.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

SO36 Benefit

A landmark of Berlin, SO36 has been called Berlin's CBGBs. The Roxy in London is another comparison, as all three played host to an explosion of counter-culture in the 1970s. But, unlike the latter two, which have disappeared, SO36 is still running, putting on gigs, club nights, and, eh, flea markets and serving as a real community resource, supporting the queer and feminist scenes, among others.

This excerpt from Berlin Super 80 gives a flavour of its heyday.


Having just celebrated its 30th anniversary, SO36 now faces closure because of noise complaints. I wondered if this was another example of the creeping gentrification engulfing the scruffier parts of the city. In response to my query, Henning, who works there, emailed me to say gentrification is a concern but this seems to be an isolated case of one neighbour complaining.

It would be a terrible shame were the SO36 to succumb. Mona Mur, who is playing on a benefit bill tomorrow, recalls many a big night: "I saw some really crucial concerts there, like DAF in 1981 when Gabi Delgado transformed the place into a madhouse. These are indeed memories... As a young punk/wave musician from "westGermany" West-Berlin was the fulfilment of desire. And the SO36 (named after the old postal code of Kreuzberg SüdOst = South East) was the Temple. It is still a cool place although it has seen its Golden Days, I guess."

Berlin Supports SO36 is on 2 July at the Modulorhaus.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Glastonbury

I've quite enjoyed the Glastonbury coverage on BBC 6Music this weekend, not least when I was contentedly baking a lovely moist chocolate cake while hailstones were smacking against my kitchen window.

6Music has really gone to town this year, with wall-to-wall coverage. Not sure why it's so prevalent this year, but even 5Live's gotten into the act, with a series of links to Worthy Farm interrupting its Wimbledon coverage. Very odd to hear sports reporters attempting to do live two-ways with music journalists, with amusing results.
The Green Fields

But, what was going on with Gabby Logan this morning? I can only think her show was re-routed to Glastonbury because it was Wimbledon's day off. Her interview with Dizzee Rascal was truly embarrassing, with her pressing him on how "young people" feel about politics and him batting away the questions with irritation. "I'd rather chew glass" was his reply to her enquiry as to how he was finding the interview. Stick to News vs Sport, Gabby!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

POUT

Pride London has always lacked a cultural element. (At various times it's even lacked the name Pride, a settled date or any kind of queer identity, but, hey, the '90s was a strange decade, wasn't it?)

Whereas, say, San Francisco's queer film festival handily runs right up to its pride march, London makes do with lots of overpriced club nights for what should be the highlight of the queer calendar. This year, however, POUT's screenings, running from 28 June to 6 July, aim to establish this missing link.

Among the films are two wonderful docs, The Times of Harvey Milk and Before Stonewall, which give a marvellous (if entirely US-focussed) overview of the origins of LGBTQ (and how many letters will be added to that billing in years to come?) activism. I heartily look forward to The Queer Years in the next decade or so.

Or maybe it's already here. Born in '68, a French film spanning 40 years or so of French Left history, although fiction, does a pretty good job of shoehorning in all the relevant touchstones of that country's recent history, running from de Gaulle to Chirac, as well as working in a precis of queer activism of the early '90s. I was struck by how similar the AIDS protests were to those held in San Francisco. And even the T-shirts were the same! This film is also screening at Frameline.

The World Ten Times OverThe POUT schedule features two films programmed by Club des Femmes: The Killing of Sister George and The World Ten Times Over. Two 1960s films directed by men may be strange choices for such an event, but, as Club des Femmes' Selina Robertson explained: "We look for the alternative, we look for politics and dialogue and experimentation... This season, visiting 1960's mainstream filmmaking is a new departure for us, predominantly because for the first time we are screening work by men. But on this occasion we wanted to go back into our history and have a look at some key films from that iconic 60's decade. So we chose two films shot in London that attempted to represent contemporary lesbian lives."

Well, I have had a look at The World Ten Times Over, and I must say it's not exactly brimming with feel-good swinging London-ness. Or feel good lesbian-ness. Two rather unhappy dancehall hostesses sharing a flat have to cope with the disapproving men in their lives as well as an unwanted pregnancy, a suicide attempt and many interesting costume changes. Are they lesbians? Well, it's a kind of blink-and-you-miss-it, coded lesbianism, very well camouflaged by their constant discussions about their boyfriends and male dates.

The London pictured here is a polarised city of executive suites and open-top cars contrasted with seedy after-hours clubs and back streets shot furtively with hand-held cameras. Quite striking but very much a period piece, with a standout performance by Sylvia Syms and an irritating one by June Ritchie as her "friend".

Robertson's take on the selection differs: "We feel that it's very important to remember where we have come from, in terms of our own British lesbian cinema culture. The two films that we have choosen to screen were made pre- and post de-criminalization. One is extremely well known and the other virtually unknown to a wider audience, so we thought it would be a good idea to have a look at these films again in a more contemporary context."

As part of the screening of Sister George, Club des Femmes is seeking reminiscences of The Gateways Club: "We want your memories! If you enjoyed the delights of the Gateways Club will you send us your memories? Who broke your heart? Who lit your cigarette? Is it time to tell all?" Tattletale should be sent to: femmes@clubdesfemmes. Should be enlightening.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Viv Albertine at Cafe Oto

Viv Albertine at Cafe Oto; photo by Val PhoenixCafe Oto
10 June

Ah, sunny Dalston. How well I remember it from days of yore: squatting in a house with no heating, collecting wood from the skip next door, boarding up smashed windows...

So, no Tube strike or distraction of international football could keep me from returning to my spiritual home for a gig by former Slits guitarist Viv Albertine. Out of the public eye for a number of years, she only returned last year for a measly two gigs with the re-formed (but hardly reformed) Slits before deciding life as part of Ari Up's backing band was not for her.

Happily, the experience did get her playing her trusty Telecaster and writing some new sweet-sour pop songs. Yes, pop. No snarling punk rawkness was on show here. Just Viv, guitar in hand, keyboardist (and author) Zoë Street Howe and pianist Steve Beresford. The set was short, sweet and, save a nasty smack in the mouth on her mic, without undue incident. In the house were old muckers The Raincoats and Tessa Pollitt, as well as other "I-was-there-in-'77" stalwarts mixed in with the jazzheads who'd come to see the other acts on the bill.

Love und Romance still seem to be preoccupations for Albertine, as she declared, "This is really depressing. I don't believe in love anymore" while introducing "Don't Believe/In Love". Other titles included "The False Heart" and "If Love", which worms into the brain with its "la-la-la-la" refrain.

There was a bratty, nursery rhyme quality to the lyrics which sat happily with her rhythmic strumming style. Perhaps a bit sedate for the old guard but everyone has to grow up.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Story of London

View of River Thames from South Bank; photo by Val PhoenixBoris Johnson, London's mayor (why do I involuntarily shudder when I type these words? It's been over a year!), is something of a gift to comedy writers, a blond-mopped, gaffe-prone Tory with an, uh, colourful personal life.

When he's not almost being run down by an errant lorry while "on a fact-finding mission", Mayor Boris turns his hand to other things, such as improving the cultural lives of all and sundry.

In an effort to persuade Londoners that we live in "the world's most dynamic city", the mayor is laying on The Story of London, a multi-strand jamboree celebrating The Big Smoke, "past, present and future". And there is some good stuff to be found. Not that I ever doubt London has a lot to offer. It's just that civic events tend to be a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth and instead producing a rather tasteless gruel.

Not so The Story of London, which runs for the full 30 days of June. Each weekend has a different theme, the first on 6 and 7 June being Walking Weekend, with a series of walks conducted by Blue Badge Tourist Guides in what is optimistically described as "the June sunshine". We can only hope. I was quite intrigued by "The Corridor of Power" walk, which is only in Polish. Others are in Russian and Japanese.

Most of the walks have fees but a few are free and there are other free events throughout the month, including music, films and exhibits.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ruby Tuesday Rock Camp

Following on from the plethora of Girls Rock Camps in the USA in the last few years is the first German edition, Ruby Tuesday Rock Camp, to be held in Cottbus in eastern Germany in August.

Registration is now open until 30 May for girls aged 12-16 who would like to try out instruments, learn to scream and enjoy the company of other girls from their peer group.

I know when I was that age, I never had a chance to touch an electronic instrument or make noise. As I recall, when I expressed an interest as an 11-year-old in learning trumpet or trombone, I was told by the music teacher that those instruments were "too hard" for girls to learn and I should stick with the more gentle flute and clarinet. I never did pick up a brass instrument and I was 29 before I tried bass or keyboards.

I attended two Ruby Tuesday events when I was in Berlin, including a gig which is featured in this promo film.


Organiser Jule discussed with me the importance of girls getting a chance to play in bands, as the 12 to 16 age group is just the time when self esteem drops, body issues come to the fore and girls' development seems to shrink. She only started playing drums at 28 and doesn't see why girls should wait until that ripe old age (ahem). "I want them to know they are strong and there is a world waiting for them."

Of course, if any bands come from it, that would be great, but the main message is for girls to express themselves in a supportive environment.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

ATP: Young Marble Giants

Young Marble Giants soundcheck at HAU2, Berlin; photo by Val PhoenixNext week Young Marble Giants will take the stage at All Tomorrow's Parties in Minehead. Knowing the Great British Weather, it will probably rain. But, that's OK. YMG are probably more suited to a rainy day than a sun-kissed summer festival.

When I saw the re-formed band earlier this year in Berlin, they received a rapturous reception, running through most of the songs on their 1980 debut, Colossal Youth, and then, for their encores, re-playing the ones they'd messed up earlier. Few bands could get away with that, but they have such laid-back charm and such good will from having been away so long, that it worked. And the encored songs were better the second time around.

These days YMG don't get out much, their appearances limited to the odd invite. For their gig at ATP, they will perform Colossal Youth in its entirety, as part of the fan-curated programme.

ATP will mark the first time the whole record has been played live, as the Berlin set list left off a few songs that guitarist Stuart Moxham still needed to re-learn. The product of youth, insecurity and vivid imagination, the record still astonishes after 29 years, full of open space that allows the songs to breathe. Melancholia ages better than anger, and the record is full of wist and longing.

As a young band, they weren't so keen on performing live, being wracked with insecurity. Bassist Philip Moxham confessed to staring at the wall during gigs, while singer Alison Statton said she lacked confidence in life, let alone music.
Backstage before the Berlin gig, I asked them about their reunion and playing live.

KB: Why are you back?
Stuart Moxham: For the money.
Alison laughs.

So, it's a big post-punk minimalist sell-out?
Laughter.

SM: We originally thought it would be a good idea to try and do another album. We said whatever we do, we won't come back and be an '80s comeback band. But, as it happens, that is what we're doing.

Philip Moxham: It's largely, as well, because of the unprecedented enthusiasm for the record. People who have been listening to it for the last 30 years or so have said they are quite pleased to see us playing. Plus, there are a lot of younger people who are into the band.

Are there particular challenges to playing live?
SM: There are for me, because all the keyboard stuff is kind of difficult to work out. "What is that chord?" And the same with the guitar, because since this group I haven't played electric guitar, really. That's a long time ago.

How do you feel now performing the songs? Does it mean something different?
Alison Statton: It definitely means something different. In one sense it feels as if we never stopped playing and we're just a few months on, but in another way we're much more relaxed about it all. Just appreciating the music for what it is more, because we've had that time and that separation.

Young Marble Giants perform Colossal Youth at All Tomorrow's Parties, Butlin's, Minehead, Somerset, on 9 May.